Alien Thoughts

Lately I’ve been writing about a number of recent miniseries that I’ve been reading, titles that have been wrapping up over the past few weeks, and commenting on the comics as I’ve completed them.  I’ll continue to do this — lots more I’ve finished up, including Punk Rock JesusLot 13RagemoorThe Adventures of August WindThe HollowsSpaceman, and Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity  — but I want to take a break from that for a moment and write about another series that I’ve just finished: Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly’s Saucer Country.  This isn’t a miniseries, but it’s a title that ended much quicker than expected (more on that later).  This was one of four new Vertigo series that were first released in early spring of 2012.  Of these four titles — FairestThe New Deadwardians, and Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child — Saucer Country was one that I felt most strongly about.  The New Deadwardians was enjoyable, but that was a SaucerCountry2limited series, and I wasn’t the biggest fan of I. N. J. Culbard’s art (although Abnett’s story was great).  Dominique Laveau was fragmented and lacked cohesion (at least in the first few issues), and I dropped that title after around issue #4.  I had the highest hopes for Fairest, but I felt that turned out to be a mixed bag.  It didn’t really follow through on its promise of being strictly about the “fairest” of the Fables crew, at least not in the initial story arc, although the stories and art are both good enough for me to continue to come back to the title.  With Saucer Country, I thought I had found a cleaver take on current politics and sci-fi, and a timely narrative at that.  It was written by Paul Cornell of Doctor Who fame, and the series had much going for it in ways that make me love stories about the Doctor.  It was first released during 2012 Presidential campaign, and it was all about a Latina New Mexican governor, Arcadia Alvarado, running for the presidency.  Given Mitt the Twit Romney’s comments about self deportation, Cornell’s timing was perfect.  On top of that, the book included a “problem” with aliens, in this case the little green men variety, and so the potential for metaphors was heavy in this book.  But even outside of the contemporary political arena, this was a pretty damned good story.  Cornell did a fine job in setting up a number of different characters, intriguing conflicts, and potential plot twists, and as early as issue #3 he had already introduced us to enough mysteries to propel his narrative into a foreseeable and fascinating future.  But then the ax prematurely came down from DC, just as it had earlier with Dominique Laveau, and Cornell and Kelly had to wrap everything up quickly.  By the final issue, which just came out this month, they tied up their story the best they could, although a number of loose threads were still left dangling.  I don’t blame them for this, in that they might have done the best with the hand they were dealt.  Cornell wrote about the cancelation on his blog earlier this year, and there he mentioned that he hopes that this won’t be the end of Saucer Country…whatever that might mean.  And earlier this month, Rick Johnson at Bleeding Cool blogged that Cornell’s recent tweets suggest that this resurrection may already be in the works, that he and KellySaucerCountrycould bring the title back with another publisher.  It would be nice if this were the case, but I can’t help but wonder if timing just isn’t on Cornell’s side.  As I mentioned, one of the strong points of the series was its timeliness, the fact that it came to us just as the presidential race was starting to heat up.  (We had already lived through the clown show of a Republican primary season, and perhaps it was no accident that Governor Alvardo’s primary race was handled and disposed of very quickly in the series.)  I felt that a lot, although not all, of the title’s energy derived from its temporal milieu, and without that context, the series might not have had the same impact.  I don’t mean to sell Cornell’s story short here.  In and of itself it was an engaging and well-thought-out narrative, and there was a lot of promise in the plot lines that Cornell began sketching.  But the fact that it came out when it did made all the difference, especially when you look at the book through the lens of metaphorical significance.  Without the 2012 campaign season, and without the fumbling about of candidates trying to make sense and political hay out of immigration reform, Saucer Country was just another are-aliens-among-us? kind of story.  And there’s nothing wrong with those kind of stories…it’s just that this title was poised to be something a little more.  So if Cornell and Kelly do bring Saucer Country back in some form, and I wish them all the luck in doing so, I don’t see how it could be the same book they had originally conceived.  And that may be okay.  I’m just sorry to have missed out on the rich unfolding of the title through Vertigo, and how the creators, not having to make the best of a canceled situation, might have followed or translated our real-life political drama in the pages of their comic book.  After all, the Republican Party’s current forlorn wanderings following the 2012 elections have everything to do with the Latino/a vote, immigration reform, right-wing organizations trying to hijack the conservative agenda, and a redefinition of what we mean by “alien.”  And all of that was packed into Saucer Country.  

On the topic of right-wing causes and conspiracy theories, I am particularly disappointed by the (I guess necessary) abandonment of the Saucer Country story line involving the therapist Dr. Glass, Milton the Limbaughish talk-show host, and the shady Major Stan Abramowitz.  In fact, the intentions of this triumvirate are shady as a whole, and Cornell did an effective job at teasing out what these guys might hold in store for Alvarado and the rest of her campaign staff.  The main storyline of Alvarado’s run for the presidency and the mystery behind her perceived abduction, along with the subplots of her former husband Michael’s blackouts (not necessarily generated by his alcoholism), the hallucinations of Prof. Joshua Kidd, and the dark background surrounding Alvarado’s right-hand man Fausto — how appropriate a name is that when you’re writing about power? — were given added mystery by the plottings of the three conspiracy right-wingers.  There was a lot of potential there, and not only as it related to the current political climate, and I was sorry that Cornell had to quickly tie up this part of the series.  And it definitely felt rushed.  Abramowitz, an ex-military man, turns out to be an ambiguous figure behind Kidd’s “hallucinations” (although the role he played was never completely or satisfactorily explained).  And Milton and Glass are just chucked out of the story entirely.  I would have also have liked to find out more about Fausto and what he might have meant for Alvarado campaign.  Was he her dark side, her ill-defined past, her ethically questionable bargain?  The only way we could find out is if Cornell and Kelly actually do take Saucer Country to another publisher.  Even then the series would have lost its original impetus, and perhaps the creator’s original intentions.  And if Cornell is able to bring back the scenarios he created, would it really have the same impact now that we know that the “first season,” as this has been called, has played itself out?  I have no idea if Cornell and Kelly will bring this series back.  But I do know that there was a lot there to work with in Saucer Country, and that I’m very sorry that it had to end the way it did.

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